Earlier today, I hopped on the horn with Maj. Gen. John Toolan, commander of Marine forces in Afghanistan. We discussed a wide variety of issues for several forthcoming articles in Marine Corps Times, but there’s at least one piece that I wanted to report today.
Noting that the initial deployment of Marine tanks to Afghanistan was high-profile, I asked the general what the current unit downrange — Alpha Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. — is doing.
One answer: Helping Marine snipers lay insurgents to waste.
The unit is now partnered with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, deployed to Helmand province’s Musa Qala and Now Zad districts. A combat correspondent’s report earlier this summer said 2nd Tanks’ operations could be tedious and uneventful, but it’s not always that simple.
The tanks crews have combined with snipers from 3/2 to form a deadly combination, Toolan said. The long-range optics on the tanks have a range of up to four miles, and have helped Marine forces establish positive identification on enemy fighters at distance, clearing the snipers to fire.
“They’ve been highly effective,” the general said. “Just in the past 10 days, the tank and snipers teams have contributed to about 50 enemy insurgents killed, using the snipers as sharpshooters and the tanks for the surveillance capability. It’s really a great combo, and 3/2 is spearheading that.”
Toolan added a matter-of-fact estimate: “We have some snipers that probably have upwards of 100 kills,” he said.
If that sounds like a lot, it is — even for the best snipers. Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, the legendary Vietnam sniper, retired with 93 confirmed kills. He may have had dozens of others, but if Toolan’s estimate is accurate, it still means 3/2’s snipers have done some extraordinary work this summer.